Pitt Football: 5 Underclassmen Who Will Bring Panthers Back to the Top

Matt PowersCorrespondent IINovember 12, 2011

Pitt Football: 5 Underclassmen Who Will Bring Panthers Back to the Top

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    The Pittsburgh Panthers have a very young team, a part of the reason that the team sits at 5-5 after Saturday's victory over Louisville instead of potentially at 8-2.

    Close losses because the young team could't finish off an opponent and youthful mistakes were to be expected, and although they are tough for fans to sit through right now, the good news is coming. These mistakes will hopefully lead to victories in a couple of years, once these players gain more experience.

    This article takes a look at five of the young Panthers who will be counted upon heavily as coach Todd Graham tries to bring the team back to the top.

Todd Thomas

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    Todd Thomas has been moved around so much the past few seasons that it's amazing what he's been able to produce as a freshman this year.

    Thomas was recruited in the Class of 2009 as a wide receiver, but he failed to qualify academically. After a year in prep school, Thomas came back to the Panthers as a safety, but a torn ACL ended his season before he could get started. Once new coach Todd Graham took over this year, Thomas got another look at receiver before being moved to linebacker.

    Thomas has played in nine games this year, including today's game against Louisville, but has missed parts of some of those games and one full game with injuries.

    While he's been on the field he has racked up 40 tackles, including 28 solo, along with three for a loss, an interception, four quarterback hurries and two pass deflections.

    Thomas has made an even bigger impact on games than the numbers would indicate, as he has made countless big plays in key situations. As he learns the position and defense a little better, he could become one of the best players in the Big East/ACC.

Aaron Donald

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    Coming into the year Aaron Donald was seen more as a backup who could help in the future, but he forced his way into the lineup by making plays whenever he was given the chance.

    For a guy who made 11 tackles and two sacks as a true freshman last year, this shouldn't have been a huge surprise.

    Donald has played in every game this season as a defensive end in the team's three-man front after playing at defensive tackle last season. Including today's game he has made 33 tackles, including 17 solo, along with 12.5 tackles for a loss and nine sacks. He has also contributed 10 quarterback hurries and broken up three passes.

    Donald has surprised some Panther fans not expecting him to play much by turning in a year where he could potentially get some All-American recognition. Donald is only a sophomore, so if he played this well while learning a new position, his potential is very high.

Ejuan Price

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    When Ejuan Price picked Ohio State over Pitt on National Signing Day, Pitt fans were disappointed but ready to move on. Then things for Price changed after Buckeye coach Jim Tressel left the program, as he quickly joined the Panthers before fall training camp.

    Price has played well, making 23 tackles as a pass-rushing linebacker to go with 5.5 tackles for a loss and three sacks, including one in today's victory over Louisville.

    Price has played extremely well for a true freshman, especially one without the benefit of summer workouts with the Panthers because of his Ohio State commitment.

    Price has shown promise, and when he no longer has to compete with Brandon Lindsey for playing time, he should be able to increase his production.

Devin Street

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    Devin Street came into Pittsburgh as a 3-star recruit at receiver and redshirted in his first year on campus, but impressed the previous coaching staff with his play during practices. He got involved as a redshirt freshman last year and made 25 catches for 318 yards and two touchdowns in Dave Wannstedt's offense.

    Street was expected to break out this year in Todd Graham's offense, but he started slowly in part due to the struggles of the quarterbacks. He rebounded since then, and after today's victory he has 39 catches for 572 yards and two touchdowns. Despite struggles and his quarterbacks rotating in and out, Street now has three games with 100-plus receiving yards and two more where he has five or more catches.

    Street is a big-play guy fast becoming the top target for Tino Sunseri. Once the quarterback play gets a little more consistent, Street should start to really post huge numbers for the Panthers due to his size, hands and athleticism.

K'Waun Williams

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    Pitt landed a steal in their 2010 recruiting class when they took a lightly recruited defensive back from New Jersey. That player, K'Waun Williams, made 14 tackles while appearing in nine games as a true freshman last year and was expected to be the Panthers' top corner this season.

    Williams has had his ups and downs in coverage this season for the Panthers, but he has posted good numbers. On the year Williams has 53 tackles, including 41 solo, four tackles for a loss, five pass breakups, an interception and two forced fumbles.

    Williams should be able to improve as he continues to work on his game and could become one of the top corners in the Big East/ACC.